Sometimes when you’re writing, you need to do research on a topic to be able to write about it with authenticity and authority. Organised people who know exactly where their story is going may get all their research done before they put fingers to keys. Others (those of us less organised or forward-thinking) side-track into research when we reach the necessary point in our novel. A third group mark the place where details are needed, finish the story, do the research, then go back and fill in.
A while ago I wrote a story where the main character had their fortune told, and I didn’t want it to be a gimmick. I wanted it authentic, and so I settled down to do a bit of research. You wouldn’t believe how many methods there are for future-seeing/question-answering. I knew there were quite a lot, but I really had no idea. Wikipedia lists 40 distinct methods.
Knowing a little about Tarot already, I chose that.
I knew nothing about Tarot.
I learnt that not only did it start out as an actual card game that had nothing to do with fortune telling, but throughout its history the images used on the cards have had various incarnations, there are many different layouts to choose from when using the cards, and each card has several possible meanings where the one chosen depends partly on which cards accompany it and a lot on the reader.
It was fascinating, and I spent longer on the research than I should have because as with many internet searches, there is a ton of information out there. The difficulty is finding the bits you want, and naturally most of what I found out didn’t appear in the story.
It didn’t help that my arty side also became interested in these ‘playing cards’. Especially on learning that in some cases decks of cards were hand painted with details added or altered so that the set became unique. These might then be passed down within a family.
The images used in this post are my attempts at reproductions of the Jean Dodal Tarot of Marseilles, which originated in the early 18th century and is one of the standard patterns from which many subsequent decks derive. Unfortunately, this side-project sparked a desire to do more and study different designs. A desire left unfulfilled at present.
I think when you’re about to do research a message should pop up:
Warning! Research can suck you in – go too deep and you may not return. Worse, 80% or more of what you find out will never be used.